Philip Barker

Thirty years ago this week, Sydney was chosen as host city for the Olympic Games in 2000, the last Australian city before Brisbane to be selected to stage the biggest sporting event in the world.

Yet the whole election race in 1993 was very different to the "coronation" of Brisbane as hosts for 2032, announced two years ago in Tokyo.

In the early 1990s, International Olympic Committee (IOC) members were permitted to make extended visits to candidate cities.

Hospitality offered during visits was said to be lavish in the days before the revelations of the largesse offered by Salt Lake City in its bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics, prompted a ban on visits to prospective cities by all but official IOC Evaluation Commissions.

In any case, the 2000 Olympic Games were seen as highly symbolic, ushering in not just a new century, but the new millennium.

Brasilia, Milan and Tashkent all began a bid but their participation proved short lived as all three withdrew before the final vote.

The remaining five - Berlin, Istanbul, Manchester and Beijing campaigned hard alongside Sydney all the way to the decisive IOC Session, scheduled for September 1993 in the sunshine of Monte Carlo.

Many forecast that the race would eventually come down to a straight fight between Sydney and Beijing and so it proved.

It was widely believed that President Juan Antonio Samaranch supported Beijing's case to be awarded the Games.

Beijing used the Great Wall of China in promoting their bid for the 2000 Olympics ©Getty Images
Beijing used the Great Wall of China in promoting their bid for the 2000 Olympics ©Getty Images

Beijing certainly had the most recent experience of hosting a major multi-sport competition, for it had staged the 1990 Asian Games.

"The organisation of a successful Asian Games here could be very helpful for Beijing," Samaranch had said.

China had made its grand Olympic entry at the Los Angeles 1984 Games and officials hinted at an Olympic bid as early as 1987.

Chinese officials shared Samaranch's view that the Asian Games represented a valuable dry run.

"By hosting a big Games, more hotels would be built, more offices, more sports facilities, and the airport would be expanded," Asian Games official Chen Han Zhang forecast.

"Beijing's success in hosting the Asian Games proved the strong foundation the city laid for large scale sporting events," claimed a Beijing 2000 brochure published before the IOC vote in 1993.

The bid was led by Beijing Mayor Chen Xitong.

"We have sought to demonstrate both Beijing's deep desire to host the Olympic Games and Beijing's ability as a modern technologically advanced metropolis."

Documents outlined an "Olympic Town" on the outskirts of the city, with a village to house athletes in close proximity.

The IOC had sent a Commission to evaluate all the bidding cities.

Many were uneasy at the prospect of awarding the 2000 Olympics to Beijing so soon after the brutal repression of student protests in Tiananmen Square ©Getty Images
Many were uneasy at the prospect of awarding the 2000 Olympics to Beijing so soon after the brutal repression of student protests in Tiananmen Square ©Getty Images

It was headed by the veteran Swedish official Gunnar Ericsson.

"The Commission witnessed strong support for the bid," Ericsson reported after the visit to Beijing and concluded "the bid presented is realistic and solid."

There was also a revealing assessment of commercial possibilities.

"In terms of marketing, there is enormous potential in this area," the report said.

Yet the candidacy was haunted by the spectre of events in Tiananmen Square, only four years earlier.

In 1989, students had begun a protest in the square, but in early June, this had been brutally suppressed by the authorities.

Exactly what role the Mayor played in the final action to clear the square remains in doubt.

It is also unclear exactly how many died when the army moved in on the fateful night.

The subject remains taboo in China to this day.

Sydney's bid was led by lawyer and businessman Rod McGeoch.

"Sydney is the athletes choice, Beijing is the politicians choice," McGeoch had said in the run-up to the vote.

In his memoirs, McGeoch wrote of "a strong intellectual view, it was wrong for China to get the Games."

At one stage it was said that the production of a book with a working title of "Beijing, the so-called suitable candidate," had been planned to highlight the shortcomings of the rival city.

This was to be published by a third party outside Australia with no links to Sydney.

Eventually, the project is understood to have been jettisoned, partly because it was realised that the IOC do not look kindly on campaigns which are critical of opponents.

The IOC evaluation report concluded: "The bid by Sydney offers conditions which go beyond those required...and give priority to the athletes."

Berlin were the first to make their presentation at 9am on what was to be a long day for candidates and IOC members alike.

Sydney and Manchester followed before lunch and by the the time Beijing and Istanbul had completed their presentations it was late afternoon.

Sydney's presentation party included 11-year-old schoolgirl Tanya Blencowe who had won a school's essay competition for the chance to be part of the bid.

"Sydney is a friendly city where it doesn't matter where you come from," Blencowe told the IOC members.

"We are all Australians together. We eat together, learn together and play together, that's what the Olympics really mean to me."

Istanbul, which used the theme "Let's meet where the continents meet" was the first to be eliminated when the voting began.

Berlin, later dogged by accusations of excessive spending, were said to have shredded their files in the immediate aftermath of their defeat.

The figures reveal that Beijing was in the lead for the first three rounds.

Manchester, bidding for a second time on the international stage, were eliminated in the penultimate round.

Sydney won by just two votes in the race to host the 2000 Olympic Games ©Getty Images
Sydney won by just two votes in the race to host the 2000 Olympic Games ©Getty Images

The bid had been led by Robert Scott, an ebullient entrepreneur who was manager of the Palace Theatre in the city.

He had arguably been responsible for triggering the enthusiasm for an Olympic bid in Britain in the wake of the financially successful Los Angeles 1984 Games.

The 2000 bid did have the backing of Prime Minister John Major.

"Manchester can prove an outstanding venue for the world's greatest festival of sporting excellence," Major claimed in a letter to the IOC.

"It will draw on its own great history and the traditions of the Olympic Movement. To these it will add innovation and technological expertise."

For the first time, the IOC members were not told of the voting figures, only the city that had been eliminated at each stage.

Yet before the last round of voting, Swaziland's David Sibandze had left for home.

"He asked me for permission to leave for very important and urgent personal reasons," Samaranch revealed later.

The Bulgarian IOC member Ivan Slavkov had also been absent.

He had been refused leave to travel to Monte Carlo by the Bulgarian Government.

In the final figures Sydney edged through by 45 votes to 43.

Sydney supporters celebrated their success in winning the 2000 Olympic Games ©Getty Images
Sydney supporters celebrated their success in winning the 2000 Olympic Games ©Getty Images

Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating had been part of the delegation from Sydney which came to Monte Carlo.

"It is a good decision for Sydney, the Pacific, the world and the Olympic Movement," Keating said at the time.

"It will be a great confidence builder for the country to think that Australia can be taken seriously at an international pageant like the Olympics."

New South Wales Premier John Fahey had also travelled with the bidding team.

"It has been coming for a long long time - you can wish for it all you want but you've still got to make it work," Fahey predicted.

Sydney's Road to 2000 was to have many obstacles but when they came to an end, they were heralded as the "Best Ever," by Samaranch.

Although Beijing's bid had been unsuccessful, their efforts were hailed as a success in Chinese state media.

"The party and Government praise what you did, the people and the motherland will never forget, it had lasting significance and won widespread praise amongst international society," Councillor Li Tieying said.

"There are many reasons we did not succeed with our bid but you strove with great effectiveness for all the world to see."

There had been considerable speculation how Beijing would react to defeat in such a high-profile vote.

In fact they returned to bid for the 2008 Olympic Games and this time they were successful.